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The Bodyweight Gym | Calisthenics, Equipment, and Maximizing Workouts
Calisthenics—these types of exercises don’t use any equipment, do they?
It’s a common enough question. And one possible response could be that equipment in general isn’t a necessity for bodyweight-type training to be accessible or possible. Although of course if there is anything that can be employed to help get better angles, improved shoulder and elbow health, increased mobility, and more strength…then why not, right?
Pull-up and chin-up type exercises—not to mention the muscle-up—are classic examples of calisthenics exercises that benefit greatly from the use of some kind of implement, apparatus, or simply some natural or man-made feature from which to pull, swing…or hang.
So there’s no denying the likelihood of being able to do particular exercises like pull-ups being more likely when finding the right place to train—hopefully somewhere with a touch of variation.
The outdoors is the obvious main example of a calisthenics training playground if you are on the lookout. This could be in a park with an exercise section and bars or even a kids’ playground (usually only if there are no kids there), or parkour-style around a more urban environment.
Forming the Right Approach to Calisthenics
One way to look at this amazingly versatile way of physical training is that it is largely about pushing and pulling. There may even be some hanging and swinging here and there, depending on how advanced and creative you want to get using just the weight of the body as the form of resistance.
But there’s one thing to keep in mind with pushing and pulling your body up, around, and about in a manner befitting the level of calisthenic skill you wish to hone:
- It will employ the same dynamics whether using ledges and floors in a carpark or the kids’ playground in the park as it will with specific equipment at home or in a gym.
- When particular areas like the chest, legs, core, or back are being targeted, the whole body will still be used to some degree. As the majority of calisthenics exercises bring large groups of muscles into play at the same time through functional, whole-body conditioning, they also significantly reduce the chance of injury.
- This is largely done by employing the use of the long-lost strength and fitness conditioning secret ingredient of working strength and mobility at the same time.
- Determining your preferred and also most effective setting from which to work will do much for your levels of concentration and work rate with calisthenic training. You may even go for a parkour-style, random, spur-of-the-moment routine when you see a decent spot. It’s kind of hard not to sometimes when you spot empty basketball courts or a tree with the right angle and width of the branch just calling out to you.
The point is this—selecting and employing the proper exercises and paying particular attention to the correct form and progressive methodology is 100 nay 1000 times more crucial than simply selecting and using a piece of exercise equipment. It ain’t the equipment, dude—it’s the moves.
Selecting Useful Equipment
We’ll take it as a given that the pull-up bars are an integral piece of kit for any decent calisthenics routine at home that doesn’t employ any features of the outdoors from which to do the pulling and hanging. Assuming you are including pull-ups in your routine, that is—which you probably should be.
Aside from a decent set of pull-up bars, there isn’t much else that I would personally recommend aside from a good yoga mat for marking out that training space and helping to avoid any potential slippage.
A set of push-up bars (or parallettes) is another versatile and useful piece of kit, especially for anyone with weak wrists, elbows, or shoulders that don’t take too kindly to hard pressing hard floors.
They don’t have to be expensive ones—the main benefit is the different hand and grip positions that allow for much more variety of angles, width, and depth, etc., and also the elevation of the hands and wrists from a simple flat pressing position. This can put pressure on wrists and elbows, not to mention tight shoulders, causing excessive wear and tear in the long run.
The push-up bars have also seriously helped me to recondition my busted shoulders along with yoga and a few other ‘ironing-out’ procedures. My shoulders somehow took on the feeling of being welded together, not to mention the fact that they were grinding away like nobody’s business.
This might have come as a result of 20 years of boxing training including more than a decade in Thailand, with a strong possibility that inadequate or insufficient mobility work was being done either before or after.
Admittedly this might have been further confounded by a sudden urge to start a heavy, 5 x 5 lifting routine in my 40s. This was well-intended and certainly made me stronger but in the long run, it certainly did more harm than good on top of areas' previous and still existing injuries.
Any kind of pulling or even hanging is good for shoulder health and overall mobility work. And pressing movements with more of a ‘grip’ to them (like you would have on a push-up or dips bar) help to condition everything from the fingers to the shoulders and back rather than just everything that is pressed past the wrists.
- Specific pulling exercises do require the use of some kind of equipment, whether it is gym-standard, makeshift, or some kind of natural feature
- Performing the exercises that don’t usually call for equipment correctly first should always be the main focus before introducing any add-ons
- Selecting equipment that can enhance the strength, mobility, and good form you already have will help you to tweak and make further improvements
- Apply the equipment only where it is needed rather than just for the sake of it
- Look out for different training environments and make the world your training ground if you want to adopt calisthenics as your lifestyle and keep things interesting!